She Went Hiking on the Appalachian Trail and You’re Never Going to Believe What Happened Next…
…and other click baiting tricks you can live without.
Until BuzzFeed created viral quizzes revealing psychological answers to important questions like “What Percent “Star Wars” Fan Are You Based On Your Favorite Food?” or YouTube provided a platform for posting the most insanely hilarious cat videos, there was never a reason for me to want to take a device in the woods. Kidding. I only need to take a phone with me everywhere I go in order to monitor how many likes I get on my Facebook posts.
Before omnipresent devices encroached upon our lives, I had never entered the backcountry with any technology other than a flashlight and a camera. (And by technology, I mean a couple of AA batteries and a few roles of 36-exposure film that was carefully rationed.)
We might have hoped to capture a few great photographs, but we didn’t document every moment or place. Selfie had more to do with the knowledge of extracting yourself from a dangerous situation than it did with inserting yourself into the picture.
We left our wristwatches at home or at least behind in the car. We used paper maps. We got up when we awoke. We ate when we were hungry. We went to bed when we were tired. We walked to school uphill—both ways. Okay, not that last one, but you get the idea. We literally hiked (or paddled or biked or climbed) our way away from the fetters that bound us to our everyday “normal” lives, even if it was only for a brief weekend or a treasured week of vacation.
Nowadays you always know the time whether you carry a watch or not. It shows up on your phone. It’s on your iPod, tablet or computer. Your GPS. Even your camera.
Well before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, you never knew you whether or not you missed important events and it mostly didn’t matter.
Upon returning to the front country on two separate occasions, I still recall the perplexity beset attempting to make sense of current headlines.
In April 1995, I was paddling the Buffalo River in Arkansas with my husband and our two young kids. We got off the river early the morning of our last day to radio reports of a terrorist attack coming out of Oklahoma City. The news reporters were as bewildered as we were. What even was in Oklahoma? Why would anyone attack there? For several days, the Oklahoma bombing remained inexplicable.
Or there was the time after a Labor Day weekend canoe outing, when my friend and I and could not figure out which member of the British monarchy had died. After the trip, we had headed to a café in the nearest town. In the days before TV screens populated every wall in every pub or eatery, people relied on newspapers for in-depth reporting. And everyone in that restaurant seemed to be reading one. Something newsworthy had transpired during the time we were off the grid.
Open papers revealed photos of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Had the queen died? The queen mother? Nope. It was 1996 and it was Lady Di. This was another sock to the gut—not because I cherished the royal family—but because global events had unfolded of which we were completely unaware.
On every wilderness trip taken, we muse about what could be going on in the world without our knowledge while we remain fully present only within our own time and place. There is innocence in being oblivious.
My point is that heading into the back county use to mean escaping the fetters that bind us to our front country lives be it family obligations, work demands or electrical umbilical cords. Now you can share every moment, post photos of every view and virtually follow every footstep through the lens of another hiker/paddler/climber/biker’s uploaded Go-Pro movie or one of your own creation.
I’m conflicted to some extent because I am both a consumer and producer of technology. Carrying a phone—or more correctly, a singular device—will make calling, writing, photo taking and even book reading considerably convenient. An iPad will allow me to blog at will rather than at the mercy of a public computer. I still find myself, however, questioning just how much I want to use technology in places and for reasons I formerly did not.
Electronics are another type of gear to be evaluated and packed. Or not. Backpacking itself has turned into a treatise rooted within the lastest technology, the lightest gear, the most waterproof and breathable materials. We all carry different definitions of what is useful and what is necessary. Who am I to argue about employing the latest and greatest electronics?
But unlike flashlights and cameras, today’s technology comes with a price—both literally and figuratively.
Five reasons why electronics are foul:
- Expense: All these devices and service plans can add up to a pretty penny.
- Danger: GPS trackers and cell phones give us a false sense of security in the wilderness. When people lack proper woods skills and instead rely on their devices to extract them when they find themselves over their head, they put both themselves and their rescuers at risk.
- Goal: Are we loosing our purpose for hiking when we focus on the documentation over the journey?
- Priorities: Are we more concerned with finding the next electrical outlet more than finding water and shelter?
- Etiquette: The woods are full of quiet rustlings and animal noises you won’t hear anywhere else. No one wants to hear your inspirational rap music, my old-school Joni Mitchell songs or anyone phoning home to report how awesome their day was.
On the other hand…
- One device holds so much power and reduces overall weight and redundancy. You need not carry individual paper maps, guidebooks, paperbacks, a camera or GPS device.
- During periods of heavy precipitation or polar vortexes, shuttles can be contacted and hostels or hotel rooms reserved in advance.
- There are lots of wicked-good apps that allow you to enhance your overall outdoors experience ranging from information about migratory bird routes, night sky charts or even how to start a fire using gum wrappers.
Getting away from it all no longer means physically removing yourself. With few areas left without cellular coverage, if you’re really looking to unplug, the connection you have to sever isn’t electronic—it’s mental.
My husband has accompanied me to Shenandoah National Park where I’ve spent each of my first four days on the trail slack packing. After confirming that we each received cell coverage, I’d text him throughout the day with updates about where I was so he could gauge where he could meet me. This was all very convenient. It also kept me tethered to my phone, concerned that messages were getting through and in general, an overall feeling of not quite getting away from it all. And because the trip is still so new, I felt pulled to post photos to Facebook and look up the status of my hiking classmates.
Unlike the severe cold and snow we followed all the way from Wisconsin, my first four days hiking has been decidedly spring-like. The days have been full of sunshine and gorgeous scenery. I saw my first bear this afternoon along the steep switchback trail south of the Simmons Gap Ranger Station near MP #73. Now that I’m on my own, my goal is to refrain from receiving inessential data, remain in the present, and keep my head up taking in more views.
Now please excuse me as I work at getting this post uploaded while juice and force I have still—but after I learn how truly wonderful Star Wars fan you are not.
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Did the bear see you? How close have you been to bears?
Hi there! Great to see you! You steamed past us (the slow group of 3, lol) on that upgrade just before you startled the bear. Great to see your post, and if I ever get organized I’ll be posting here as well. My son is heading out NOBO alone soon so he just may catch up with you sometime before PA. Happy trails 🙂
Hey Annette! How ironic was that? I’m hiking a bit slower now that I’m carrying a full pack. And just think, that section where we crossed paths is probably burned now. All the best.